Tom Cruise: Mission improbable

Is Hollywood's shortest, hugest leading man really in love with the girl from <i>Dawson's Creek</i>? Or is it all just a publicity stunt? Aw, who cares? What Hollywood really wants to know is: has he totally lost the plot?
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The Independent Online

The debate over his sexuality is so last year. The question currently on everyone's lips is, is Tom Cruise mad? His recent performance on The Oprah Winfrey Show suggests that he is either a) so besotted with his latest girlfriend, Katie Holmes, that he has temporarily regressed to the status of adolescent virgin in the first gush of love as in his breakthrough movie Risky Business or b) that he has gone finally and irrevocably tonto.

The debate over his sexuality is so last year. The question currently on everyone's lips is, is Tom Cruise mad? His recent performance on The Oprah Winfrey Show suggests that he is either a) so besotted with his latest girlfriend, Katie Holmes, that he has temporarily regressed to the status of adolescent virgin in the first gush of love as in his breakthrough movie Risky Business or b) that he has gone finally and irrevocably tonto.

"I can't be cool ... I can't be laid-back," he said. "It's something that has happened and I feel I want to celebrate it and I want to celebrate her. She's a very special woman." Jumping up and down on Oprah's sofa, punching the air and generally talking gibberish, he delivered one of the most over-the-top performances of his career. It was, by all accounts, hugely embarrassing.

When you've been a star as long as Cruise, you can get away with a lot of things, but generally he has been too much in control, too aware of his profile to need much forgiveness. But recently it appears he has slipped from Cruise control to out of control. He has made a prat of himself. And, let's face it, he is a Scientologist.

Cruise is still the biggest male movie star in the world. Attach him to a movie and you've got it made - in more ways than one. True, you have to organise a paycheck of somewhere around $25m plus a back-end deal that devours the profits of your movie like a whale shovels up plankton. For Mission: Impossible III, for example, which is due to start shooting on 18 July, he has just negotiated a deal for 30 per cent of the profits in his capacity as actor/producer. When you consider that similar deals on the first two Mission: Impossible films saw him pocket $145m, he stands to make a pretty penny. And Hollywood insiders are speculating that his deal on the forthcoming Spielberg blockbuster War of the Worlds may bring him in around $200m, if the movie performs to expectations.

Leaving aside the rumours that his recent erratic behaviour (including his insistence on having a Scientology tent on set and that movie executives had to spend four hours at Los Angeles' Scientology Institute before they were allowed to talk to him), Cruise is still the name that every producer wants on his marquee. What Tom Cruise wants, Tom Cruise gets. However, this situation may not last much longer. This could prove the last summer for the 21st-century Golden Boy.

His Top Gun co-star Val Kilmer told me recently that Cruise is very challenging to work with - "no one who is successful doesn't have strong opinions" - but that he admires his "winning style", something which has netted Cruise more than money over the years.

Following his first marriage, to voluptuous actress Mimi Rogers, a fellow campaigner on environmental issues through the Earth Communications Office, Cruise has charmed his way into the affections of über-beauties such as Nicole Kidman, to whom he was married for 11 years, and Penélope Cruz, with whom he had a four-year relationship. Aside from a rumoured dalliance with Colombian beauty Sofia Vergara that fuelled the more reckless gossip columns for a while, Cruise is now hot and heavy with Batman Begins star Holmes who, he says, is The One.

Yet how many times did we endure his earlier gushings about how great Nicole ("Nic") was and how happy they were? How many times did we suffer through the Cruz/Cruise matrix in which he was making goo-goo eyes over the fiery Spanish actress until, er, he wasn't? His very public behaviour over his current squeeze reinforces the belief it is all a publicity stunt. And if Holmes is a publicity stunt, maybe they all were.

Consider the facts: both Cruise and Holmes are appearing in forthcoming blockbusters - he in War of the Worlds, she in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins - which would benefit from a summer of spin and hype. It seems that Holmes was courted by Cruise in a manner similar to that employed by the young Prince of Wales. She, it is said, was summoned by "his people" to Los Angeles to discuss a movie and they ended up going out on a date in his private plane above the city. It is almost as if he thumbed through the Suitable Partners for a Superstar catalogue before alighting on the pretty (and much younger) Holmes, just as she was poised to make the move from television to film.

Things started to go awry when Cruise sacked his publicist, Hollywood's legendary Pat Kingsley, at the end of last year, and handed the job to his sister and fellow Scientologist, Lee Ann DeVette. Since then, his increasingly erratic behaviour has turned him into "a laughing stock", claims one Hollywood insider. Perhaps most damning was the moment that Nicole Kidman, when asked on a television chat show whether she thought that this was "true love" for her ex-husband, replied: "In terms of your life, if you start to exploit it, then what's real and what's not?" In Cruise World, it appears that the difference between the two is being erased.

Clearly, he is good at acting being in love. He is good at a lot of things: being a star, doing walkabout for fans and saying hi to their mums on mobile phones; smiling; action heroics; he could probably fake an orgasm as well as Meg Ryan should the need arise. But this is all play.

On the one occasion I met Cruise, I was rewarded with a gushing monologue about the benefits of fatherhood. Having just adopted the secondof two children with Kidman, he gave every impression of having fathered the child himself. Such was his sincerity and conviction that I almost believed that he had.

It's not that he is unlikeable. Like Tom Hanks, Cruise has based his entire professional persona on "likeable". But he is a tough cookie. He will customarily adapt scripts to suit his requirements and his philosophy. And he doesn't only do this for himself. Recently, he forbade Holmes to take part in a projected film about the Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick because it contained drug scenes.

As a former Catholic, brought up in a roving family (attending 15 schools by the time he was 14), a would-be priest who spent a year at a Franciscan seminary before dropping out and the world's most celebrated Scientologist, Cruise is opposed to drugs in fact or fiction, although he allowed himself to play a drug user in Spielberg's Minority Report.

One of the perils for actors is that constant exposure to other personalities will eventually cause their own character to atrophy. They simply forget how to be who they really are. Of course, it must be difficult being harried by the media and gay lobbyists about the state of his sexuality. Some years ago he put paid to the rumours with a successful $100m lawsuit against the porn actor Chad Slater, who claimed that they had a gay affair and this was what ended Cruise's marriage to Kidman. And it must have been galling to have a freshly divorced ex-wife cracking jokes about how she can wear high heels again, as Nicole Kidman famously did in Cannes.

One of the reasons behind Cruise's success is that his screen machismo is essentially non-threatening. It's a starry machismo, laced with fairy dust. It is almost the exact opposite of Russell Crowe's. The Australian is incapable of separating himself from his screen personas; he cannot conceal his true self. Cruise has made a career out of concealment. Look at the movies. It's as if he is challenging himself to be masculine and virile in every film - the dances he performs in Risky Business, and with the pool cue in The Color of Money, the rock-climbing and the fight scenes in Mission: Impossible, the elaborate swordplay in The Last Samurai, the sex evangelist in Magnolia. They are constructs of machismo; not exactly fake, but hollow.

Dougray Scott, who played the villain Sean Ambrose in Mission: Impossible II, once told me: "Tom is very single-minded. You'd better be on your mettle when you're working with him. He'll push you to the limit. Because that's what he does to himself." Maybe Cruise pushes himself so hard because it is the only way that he can define who he is.

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